The tree that gave zero fucks

Nature notes

I love the attitude of this tree, spotted out on a dog walk in Oxford.

It’s continued on its way, regardless of metal fencing, and grown around it. Take that humankind, with your flimsy fences. There’s something beautiful in the little hint of just how easily nature would re-wild us if we let it. And a reminder that sometimes, the only way to deal with obstacles is to be patient and creative, and allow yourself to grow around them.

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The last days of asparagus…

Recipes

It’s the last week of asparagus season. Sigh.

For the last few weeks I’ve been gorging myself on the grassy, tight little stalks of deliciousness. There is much to be done with the asparagus, from tarts to stir fries, risottos and pizza toppings. But in my mind, there’s no better way to enjoy the delicate spears than rolled in a little olive oil, griddled, salted and dipped in a soft boiled egg. So simple. So wonderful. It’s breakfasts like this that dreams are made of.

So make the most of it. Get down to your local pick your own/market/greengrocer and stock up on the last stalks.

Just make sure you save some for this simple recipe. (Although to be honest, it’s not so much as a recipe as a serving suggestion/opportunity to get hungry looking at pictures of dripping, golden yolks and tender spears of asparagus.)

egg

Dippy golden yolk, sea salt and tender, griddled stalks

Griddled dipping asparagus and soft-boiled egg

What you need:

Several stalks of asparagus

As many eggs as there are people eating

Olive oil

Salt

What to do:

Heat your griddle pan. Cut the tough ends off your asparagus stalks, rub with a little oil and place onto your griddle once it’s very hot.

It would be patronising to tell you how to boil an egg. You know best how you like it. Personally I like a good 5 minutes in boiling water for a soft boiled egg that’s not completely liquid, but instead has a gooey, fudgy consistency. This is in Oxford though, where the water is very hard. One thing that I don’t think should ever be compromised however is the quality of the egg itself. Get organic (which by definition will also be free-range) for lovely, savoury sunshine-yellow yolks.

Once your egg is boiled to your liking, place it in an egg cup, arrange your stalks of griddled asparagus alongside, and dust with a few good chunky flakes of sea salt.

Add a slice of toast if you like. It’s just as nice without.

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In defence of the 24 hour holiday

Adventures

Have you ever found yourself looking at a weekend to-do list and feeling completely overwhelmed by life in general?

That was how I felt last weekend.

Confronted by a list of life admin, household chores, budgeting tasks and wedding to-dos, I felt a clammy weight settle in my stomach, and a heavy fog of despair descend. Life is busy at the moment. And not entirely easy. It feels like a bit of a constant juggle where nothing ever gets done properly, just as well as can be in the time we have. Time gets stretched here, a food shop lasts an extra few meals there, a quick wipe around the sink serves as a sticking plaster for our hideous bathroom, and I feel like I’m constantly late for everything.

The sensible thing of course, is to make yourself a list, and methodically work your way through it, striking off tasks and replacing the dread with a warm glow of satisfaction at how you’ve managed to transform your tangled, sweaty cobweb of a life into an organised, peaceful sanctuary so slick you’re considering instagram-ing your (empty) dish rack.

I’ve got another solution. OK, it’s not so much a solution in that we still need to do a food shop. But it did help me get a bit of a perspective, a much needed rest and a break from the pressures that from time to time can mount up on us and make us feel like we’re crumbling under the weight of us.

The 24 hour holiday. As far away as you can reasonably get in a few hours. I promise, it’s worth it. And it’s amazing what you can cram in.

At 3.30pm last Saturday I was calling round places in south Devon, trying to find somewhere with a dog-friendly, last minute room available. At 4pm I’d found a yurt in a field near Totnes, with availability, but no dog friendliness. At 4.15pm I’d burst into grateful tears when my parents said they’d look after the dogs, at 4.30pm we’d dropped our two hairy hounds off for their night away, and by 5pm we were on the road, overnights packed, and on our way to Devon. At 3.30pm on Sunday, feet coated with sand, faces tinged with sun, tired, happy, more relaxed than I can remember, we got in the car to head home.

In a mere 24 hours we’d:

  • Got ourselves down to a Mongolian yurt in an idyllic buttercup-filled meadow in south Devon, overlooked by a Shetland pony and visited by a springer spaniel/collie named Grace.
  • Munched on delicious, hearty vegetarian food at Totnes stalwart Willow, washed down by organic English ale
  • Lit a fire in the brazier by our yurt, opened a bottle of red, and sat chatting and stargazing, enjoying the peace of the Devon countryside – and actually spending time together that wasn’t working out finances or delegating chores.
  • Woken up to the sound of birdsong, sunshine streaming into our cosy little circular yurt-bedroom. Opening the door to let some air in meant being greeted by a sea of sunlit buttercups, and a confused swallow who flitted in and then out again.
  • Explored the quirky little town of Totnes, eaten freshly baked slices of pizza, sipped delicious coffee, people watched, visited the beautiful Bowie gallery and discovered the Own Art scheme (which everyone with an interest in art, but non-sympathetic bank balance should know about)
  • Rambled round a charity shop and bought books to take to the beach (and some £1 records)
  • Trotted down to Bantham Beach (on the recommendation of the super friendly lady in the Bowie gallery) – a wide stretch of holiday-worthy sand with its very own Gastrobus selling delicious-smelling burgers, cakes, snacks and drinks
  • Paddled in the warm water, collected shells, walked down the beach and flopped down with our charity shop books for a peaceful beach read

Not bad for 24 hours. And nothing like getting as far away as possible from the grinding pressure of everyday life to give you a bit of perspective on it all.

Oh, and it cost us a grand total of £150 all in. Accommodation, food, parking, the lot. Top tip – set your budget and get it out in cash to stop yourself accidentally going over…

Wedding invitations – and a happy reminder

Flotsam and Jetsam

Reason for happiness: wedding invitations!

Beautiful wedding invitations designed by my equally beautiful friend Natalie Hough. You can find more of her artwork on her Etsy store, The Ethical History Museum or find her on Instagram: ethicalhistorymuseum

I’m so lucky to have such talented friends. Planning a wedding can be stressful at times, but knowing that I have wonderful friends who are gifting me their time, talents, advice, friendship and support is a special thing indeed.

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Look at these beauties! I love the little otters holding hands as a logo.

Simon and I spent hours tying up each little bundle with lovely mint green paper twine from Paperchase. And the shells were collected on our spontaneous 24 hour holiday to Devon a couple of weeks ago. I dipped each one in gold paint before threading them on.

Writing the names and addresses on envelopes was a surprisingly lovely task. I was slightly dreading it, but as the names of people we love made their way onto the backs of envelopes, I couldn’t help thinking of them plopping down through letterboxes and onto doormats as far afield as Singapore and South Africa. The envelopes included postcodes for north, south, east and west London, some found themselves on their way to the Midlands, and one right down to the tip of Cornwall. Another was headed for Edinburgh, while several travelled by hand to Kenya.

A rather tedious task turned out to be an unexpected reminder of why we choose to have weddings, to celebrate something special with those we love, and to have our friends and families by our sides as we promise life’s most important things.

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Vanilla French toast with griddled nectarines and summer berries

Recipes

It’s the third day of summer. Apparently. Not that you’d know it from the grey drizzle coating everything this morning. (When will it stop?!)

But yesterday we got a hopeful morning of season-appropriate sunshine, before the clouds descended again for the afternoon. It put me in mind for a sunny breakfast, and spying the nectarines ripening in the fruitbowl, and the freshly-baked loaf of soudough made by my super baker partner Simon, I knocked up this little treat.

Enjoy with a cup of strong, black coffee.

Toast

Vanilla French toast with griddled nectarines and summer berry compote

Vanilla French toast with griddled nectarines and summer berry compote

What you need:

A large slice of sourdough

One organic, free-range egg

A splash of coconut milk (or your favourite milk, nut, cow or otherwise)

Coconut oil for frying

Vanilla essence

One nectarine (or peach – this would be delicious with a peach…)

A handful of summer berries (I used strawberries and blueberries)

Maple syrup

A dusting of cinamon

What to do:

Beat your egg in a flat dish, adding half a teaspoon of vanilla essence and a splash of milk to loosen. Soak your slice of bread, one side, and then the next.

While your bread is soaking, heat your griddle pan, slice your nectarine or peach in half and smudge a little coconut oil over the inside to stop it sticking.

Place your berries in a small pan with a splash of water and heat over a low flame to soften and release the juices. Let them bubble away while you’re preparing the rest, giving them the occasional squash with the back of a wooden spoon.

Place your nectarine onto the hot griddle and turn when you have some nice blackened lines.

While the nectarine is griddling, heat half a tablespoon of coconut oil in a frying pan and add your egg soaked bread, carefully pouring over any remaining egg mix.

Give your bread plenty of cooking time to make sure it’s cooked through. Once golden brown on one side, flip to the other.

When ready to assemble, top your French toast with the nectarine halves, swirl your jammy compote over and top with maple syrup and a dusting of cinnamon.

Find yourself a spot in the sunshine and alternate bites of deliciousness with sips from a cup of strong black coffee. Or you know, whatever your morning beverage of choice happens to be…

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